1. WHAT IS ANXIETY?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When your body goes into fight or flight all sorts of messages are sent through your system as your body prepares itself to save you from a perceived danger.  Anxiety is inappropriate and accelerated fear. It can take on a life of its own as it's activated by your automatic system, leaving you feeling  powerless to help yourself. This can develop into a fear of anxiety, creating a nasty neural loop.

 

Anxiety is basically the body being over sensitised to certain stimuli. The brain has become inadvertently programmed to make the body anxious. Most people experience this arousal as a whoosh of fear that catapults through their system which can lead to panic attacks. Because there is a neural aspect to anxiety, re-wiring the brain through different techniques will help so that the fear-producing circuits are not so easily triggered. Stress is not anxiety, but long term stress can cause anxiety.​

POSSIBLE SYMPTOMS

  • Increased heart rate

  • A tightening or weight in your heart area

  • A feeling of impending doom

  • Gut tightening or nausea (IBS can be a symptom)

  • Sweaty hands

  • Tremors

  • A feeling of intense fear, almost as if you might die

  • Fear of fear, so you may have anxiety of getting anxiety

  • Fast and unpleasant catastrophizing thoughts

  • Wanting to pee

  • Panic attacks where you hyper-ventilate and have difficulty breathing

  • Difficult sleeping

What is anxiety?

The part of the brain that controls anxiety and fear is call the amygdala. Any signal that is perceived as a possible threat is processed in the thalamus (brain's switchboard) which divides into two and sent along two different pathways. Both lead to the amygdala. One triggers fight, flight or freeze which triggers all the nasty symptoms of anxiety such as an increased heart rate, nausea, sweating and a feeling that you are doing to die. The other signal goes via the cortex to the amygdala. The cortex is where rational thought takes place and your brain is determining whether there really is danger. 

So for example if you hear a mechanical noise while in a plane, that sound goes straight to the amygdala and produces a rush of fear. About half a second later the other signal arrives from the cortex and determines that it is the sound of the wheels coming down and therefore you are not in danger and your amygdala calms you down. However the fear activated automatically before you were able to ascertain whether you were in danger. You are experiencing anxiety via an automatic process which can make you feel helpless as well as in terrible fear.

If you are sensitised and triggered by something such as flying or being in social groups, the trigger can become stuck and cannot be overridden by signals from the cortex telling you that you are safe. That is why you stay in fear and anxiety. The triggers have become ingrained or you may describe it as a neural loop. 

In neurology there is a saying, "what fires together wires together", so we have to teach your brain a new pattern, which we do through the imagination, while in a trance state. We can also disrupt the pattern through NLP techniques, or use EMDR to break the emotion from the event. We can also understand the triggers and use mindful thinking. In addition we can work with the body/mind connection and the unconscious to bring about change.

There are some experiences or traits I find regularly in clients suffering from anxiety:

  • A trauma or multiple traumas in childhood or adult life that has switched the system into fight or flight, this is not necessarily obvious in the first session but is often revealed during the therapy process. Once this trauma has been processed I find anxiety greatly improves.

  • Long term stress.

  • A tough inner critic. 

  • High achieving with a lack of work/life balance.

Phobias result when you are in extreme fear, so phobias are in essence anxiety and can be treated in a similar way. Most people with anxiety will also suffer from insomnia.

2. HOW DO YOU GET ANXIETY?

Many people describe anxiety as having come on suddenly but when they examine their lives we often find there has been a long lead-up or identifiable triggers. Certainly there is an alarming increase in both anxiety and depression in our society, particularly amongst young people. There are many reasons for why anxiety switches on and locks in:

  • Genetic disposition, it runs in the family

  • It can be triggered by childhood or adult trauma or abuse

  • Stress due to an illness

  • Stress build-up through lifestyle or work pressures

  • a reaction to drugs or coming off an anti-anxiety drug

  • personality type, you may have a disposition towards stress and anxiety, such as a touch inner critic or high achieving or low confidence 

  • mental health disorders, anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with depression

  • research indicates that high levels of stress and cortisol during a pregnancy can result in the child being more prone to anxiety

3. WHAT IS ANXIETY OF ANXIETY?

People suffering from anxiety can end up in a neural loop, being anxious about anxiety. They can become hardwired by anything that is related to the anxiety attack. It works like this:

1. You have a panic attack in a classroom

2. Your hippocampus remembers you were in a classroom and it clocks 'classroom' as danger

3. Next time you are about to walk into the classroom you are triggered into anxiety

It can be more simple than this:

1. You blush when your boss criticises you

2. You find everytime you see your boss you blush

So the strong emotion gets hard-wired in your brain causing an automatic response via the limbic system or the amygdala area in the brain. Our brain can be retrained through simple imaginative exercises.

4. TEENAGE ANXIETY

I didn't know what anxiety was, growing up in Hamilton New Zealand. Now it seems to be endemic. Eight year olds vomiting with test stress? Ten year olds self harming? Twelve year old suffering panic attacks in the classroom? Self medication with weed, Xanax and valium? Why do so many teenagers suffer from anxiety? This article has some interesting ideas:  https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-during-adolescence/

As the parent of a teenager myself, I am familiar with how difficult it can be to get your adolescent to get out of bed let alone go and see a therapist. However many are living with anxiety and anxiety can generate extreme fear with is frightening for them. It can feel as if they will never escape. When they experience a reduction in anxiety and learn techniques to control anxiety, it can be enormously relieving.

 

Anxiety can lead to disengagement with school, self medicating, insomnia and all sorts of other follow-on effects. If you child has said they feel anxious, please don't dismiss it, seek help.

5. WHAT YOU CAN DO?

 

I like to work with a mix of tools to heal anxiety, working neurally and with body/mind connection. I suggest therapy that involves all or some of the following:

  • EMDR - if trauma involved

  • NLP - re-wiring the brain's anxiety triggers, replacing old triggers with new feelings and experiences

  • Exposure therapy - we do this through the imagination while you are in a trance

  • Hypnotherapy - suggestion while you are in a trance, teaching your unconscious you are safe

  • Somatic Pendulation - moving in and out of anxiety while you are in a deep state of relaxation, so that you can re-train the body/mind and understand what a deeply relaxed body feels like. 

  • Trauma narrative rewiring - when you re-write trauma you can release an old freeze response in the body bringing about healing.

  • Cognitive awareness - is there a thought that you have before you are triggered? Is there a pattern of self criticism that is triggering stress and anxiety? We find tools to help with this.

  • Inner Child Healing - Is there trauma work to be done on the inner child that will release fear and help you feel safe?

  • Examining lifestyle - how can you support the changes made in therapy at home?

 

There are other ways of working with anxiety. Some people decide to take anti-anxiety medication, usually an SSRI. Be aware that it can accelerate the anxiety before you start to feel better.  Others find CBT alone can be of benefit in self managing through thoughts. 

A large part of anxiety healing is about bringing a deep relaxation to the whole system and allowing it to truly rest. This may sound simple but it takes mindfulness to bring relaxation through your life when you are used to being stressed. You have to be committed to the notion of changing the way you interact within your body and the outside world. It is not coincidence that anxiety has increased as the pace of life has increased. Our nervous systems are not designed for the pace and stresses of modern life. Technology is evolving faster than our bodies. When you have anxiety it is like a huge siren screaming 'slow down', 'relax!!' Sometimes it can take time for the 'protector' in you, the one who thinks they are keeping you safe by producing anxiety, to give up on it! 

 

I have noticed some people get faster results than others. The clients that choose to take up yoga and meditate or do a hypnosis daily, simply get better faster. The results are longer lasting as they have made lifestyle shifts and they are supporting the changes they are making at therapy. 

 

By taking yourself into a theta or delta state during a guided meditation and by allowing the body to stretch out tension and relax you are contributing enormously to the physiology of your own wellbeing. You are switching the nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic and there a huge physical benefits when you relax the nervous system. You release hormones that help your immune system, will sleep better, your thinking will be clearer and your digestion will be more efficient. You are less likely to be anxious!

For information on how I treat anxiety please visit this page.